Sun, Jun 12, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Afleet Alex to duel against Giacomo in Belmont Stakes


For the first time in four years, no horse will attempt to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont and become US racing's first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.

The alternative is an appealing one, though: Derby winner Giacomo versus Preakness winner Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes today.

"They are the only two horses left standing," said trainer Nick Zito, who spoiled Smarty Jones' Triple shot with Birdstone last year. "It's great to have a rematch. It should be a lot of fun."

The last one came in 2001, when Preakness winner Point Given won over Derby winner Monarchos, who finished third. In fact, four of the last five Derby-Preakness winner matchups were won by the Preakness winner.

Nine other horses are entered in Saturday's Belmont, all with undistinguished resumes totaling one graded stakes win and a combined 16 victories from 54 starts. Afleet Alex is the 6-5 morning-line favorite, with Giacomo the second choice at 4-1.

Among the starters are three trained by Zito -- Andromeda's Hero, Indy Storm and Pinpoint. Zito field eight horses in the Derby and Preakness and none won, but he's hoping one of his second-stringers can pull an upset, just as Birdstone did at 36-1 odds.

"We've got a decent bench," Zito said, "and hopefully one of them can come up with a good play."

All eyes will be on the acrobatic Afleet Alex on what is expected to be a hot, hazy day. By the way, Afleet Alex is 2-for-2 over sloppy tracks.

Coming off his remarkable victory in the Preakness, when he nearly fell to his knees after clipping heels with Scrappy T at the top of the stretch, Afleet Alex is running for more than racing glory.

The colt's owners, a bunch of Philadelphia-area friends, have been donating a share of Afleet Alex's earnings to pediatric cancer research. So much interest has been generated that about 30 racetracks and more than 1,000 other locations will operate Alex's Lemonade stands today.

"I feel privileged to be able to speak for this cause and raise money for it," Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey said on Friday. "It'll be a great horse race, but there's more to life than just horse racing ... and this is part of it."

Giacomo, meanwhile, appears refreshed after spending three weeks at his home base at Los Angeles following his third-place finish in the Preakness.

"The horse with fresh legs could pull off the upset," trainer John Shirreffs said.

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